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Top Winter Pruning Tips for Healthy Trees and Shrubs

Posted by sarahebordelon on January 2, 2020
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Colder temperatures and shorter days mean that your deciduous trees and shrubs are dormant for the winter. This is the perfect time to prune your plants so they can heal thoroughly and put on lush new growth in the spring. Here’s what you need to know about which plants to prune in winter, why the timing is so important and how to get started.

What’s in it for you?

  • Healthier landscape plants
  • Improved safety as dead branches are removed
  • Neater appearance of foundation plantings
  • More vigorous growth in the spring

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Top Winter Pruning Tips:

  1. Prune Only Deciduous Plants. Deciduous plants lose their leaves in the winter. Falling leaves are a sign that your plants are going dormant, which is what you want. Winter pruning can take place any time after leaves have fallen in late autumn, and it encourages stronger growth in the spring.
  2. Finish Pruning Before Buds Swell. When days get longer and temperatures rise, your shrubs and trees will begin to bud, showing that it is no longer dormant and beginning another year of active growth. Finish pruning before this happens so the cuts heal completely before the plant needs to put its energy into leaf development.
  3. Remove All Dead Branches First Dead branches can be hazardous if they fall on people or objects below, so cut them back first. You can tell a branch has died when its bark peels back to reveal dry, pale wood. If you’re not sure, scratch the wood with a knife to see if there’s still a green layer. If not, it’s dead and you can cut away.
  4. Remove Crossed Branches Next Branches that rub against each other will eventually cause bark to break and allow disease or insects to weaken the tree. Removing crossed branches will keep your plants healthier. It’s up to you which one you cut away; when in doubt, go with the smaller one.
  5. Prune With a Partner. Pruning in winter makes it much easier to see the structure of your shrub or tree since there are no leaves to block your view. Have a partner circle the plant as you prune to keep an eye on its shape as you go. Aim for a balanced look by stepping back to observe your work often. A partner can also help identify which branch should be cut by shaking it for you.

Pro Tip: Even if you enjoy doing your own pruning, it’s a good idea to have a professional arborist do the work every few years. Their trained eye will identify disease or insect problems you might not have noticed and solutions for keeping your plants healthy and strong.

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